Functional Stupidity

Despite high IQ among politicians, stupidity is prevalent in government policy making.

There is a common assumption among regular folks of “smartness” in politics. After all, many of our democratically elected politicians went to the most prestigious universities in the nation. Moreover, I would bet that many of them would certainly score high on IQ tests.
Despite this above-average intelligence among our politicians, functional stupidity 1 is prevalent in government policy making.
It should not surprise us, stupidity in individuals is rare- but in groups, parties and nations is the rule 2.

In popular psychology stupidity refers to some kind of mental deficiency. To be stupid is to be ignorant, but it is also to lack the ability or the willingness to think. Those unable to question their deeply rooted beliefs are also labeled as stupid. Most of us are not stupid. Most of our politicians neither.
Even though most politicians are fit to think, political parties develop ideas and procedures to guide responses to upcoming situations. Once learned, they make it possible for individuals to act without thinking and therefore, promptly and efficiently. These guidelines are essential to run the political organization smoothly.
Functional stupidity is the inability or unwillingness of an individual, within an organization, to question prevailing ideas. People choose not to think. Politicians, even the smart ones, prefer to remain within well-known and chartered terrains. Party rules and norms are not challenged. For those in control, critical thinking, if any, may be seen as dangerous and threatening, and therefore, voicing one’s own opinions is discouraged and sanctioned.
We shall make no mistake; functional stupidity is not an undesirable trait. In fact, functional stupidity plays a positive role in politics. It provides a sense of certainty. It also contributes to maintaining the political party in order and reducing vulnerability to an attack from outside. For example, many times politicians vote in congress what their party allies tell them to vote, not giving too much thought to what they are voting. This helps to pass laws smoothly.
But functional stupidity can backfire as well. It traps individuals into questionable patterns of thinking. It can generate a gap between approved ideas and pressing reality. If not corrected, the fracture between legislation and society problems may eventually lead to disaster. The existing environmental crisis is the result of functional stupidity in government at a global scale.
I do not see myself as immune to functional stupidity. After all, it’s a prevailing condition throughout all levels of society. As noted, stupidity should not be rooted out completely. A healthy dose of stupidity should be cultivated. Nevertheless, some strategic dose of critical thinking should be injected into our politicians’ brains more often. The goal would be to prevent very smart people making such stupid decisions sometimes.
(1)    A Stupidity-Based Theory of Organizations. Mats Alvesson and AdrĂ© Spicer.

(2)    Friedrich Nietzsche

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